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Can Roma Find a Role for El Shaarawy?

Once the peninsula’s greatest hope, is Stephan still world class?

AS Roma v FC Villarreal - UEFA Europa League Round of 32: Second Leg Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

Signore e Signori!

I come to you from the pulpit today to discuss a topic rather close to my own heart – a young man named Stephan Kareem El-Shaarawy. You may be familiar with him, as in you may have seen him on the bench, or on a billboard, or magazines. Perhaps a faded poster of a 19 year old SES is still thumb tacked to your sisters wall. If you have been a fan of calcio in the last 5 years, it’s next to impossible not to know about Il Faraone.

We all know the scoop or at least we know the rep. I won’t bog you down with a jog down memory lane, particularly one that is painted in Milanese Red and Black, but the story is as old as the game itself. This story however is different. Different you say? Indeed, because Stephan is different. At the age of 19, Stephan was already considered the future of Italian football. Sure, we’ve heard it before, in fact every season some young kid is considered to be the next, slightly less younger kid. But in Stephan’s case, the proof was in the panettone. He had bagged 14 goals halfway through the 2012-2013 season, ended up being Milan’s top scorer that year, scored in the Champions League setting a club record for the youngest player to score in the tournament, popped his cherry with the Azzurri and found himself rated as one of the top players born after 1991 by Don Balon, as well as sitting 52nd in the Guardian’s list of the best footballers in the world. Accolades aside, all you had to do was watch to understand. There is something special about Stephan. A blue chipper no doubt, en route to a mind-blowing valuation.

We all know what happened next. This is where I’m not going to waste my breathe for what happened after his series of horrid injuries is far more telling. Young kid, literally with the world at his feet to tossed aside by Milan only to be offered a life line by Monaco who would in turn, prefer to humiliate and freeze him out as opposed to consider bringing him on full time. He was damaged goods. He had the football equivalent of genital herpes. Prince of the Italian game to pauper overnight. How many 23-year old’s do you know that could take that in stride?

Turn the page from the fruitless Monaco spell, and SES is welcomed through the gates of Rome. It is in the Eternal City he appears to find his spiritual home. Last season, Stephan showcased his brilliance and hit the ground running putting away 8 goals and 2 assists in 16 league games. He adapted seamlessly and scored within 20 minutes of his return to the peninsula. More importantly, he seemed a fit for the club.

This brings us to the present.

After three consecutive starts at the beginning of the season, including one in which he scored, that would end up being the longest spell in which Stephan would see green this season. Currently making the starting eleven in league play only 12 times, and being subbed in 11 times thus far, which brings me to my point. Stephan ain’t no substitute lover or side chick.

His pedigree and reputation demand a consistent role, or some form of consistency at the club. Out of the last 10 league games, SES has started 5 times, been subbed in twice, and rode the pine for the remaining three. You cannot help but feel as though Perotti’s injury problems have been more or less the culprit behind his recent starts. Solid performances have seemingly not been enough to grant him any sort of real opportunity for impact. Granted, he was injured in November, but recovered quickly.

With his dribbling, finesse, vision, nose for goal, as well as physical traits that are rare in Italian players today, why has Stephan not seen the pitch more? He’s a versatile player, too, having seen success at multiple roles including either wing, as an attacking midfielder, center forward and striker. So, this begs the question even more. Is it the hair? The waxed eyebrows? Fitness or perhaps attitude? Or has he quite simply just been displaced by a Perotti when he is healthy? A victim of a tactical set-up he is unable to roll with? If it is any of these things, there certainly has not been much about it in the media.

Anyone that has followed his career knows one of Stephan’s greatest traits is his attitude. He’s a humble kid. It reminds me of a quote by Joyce Meyer: “Patience is not simply to ability to wait – it’s how we behave while we’re waiting”. Steph has shown so signs of resentment about the situation, nor did he when he suffered a demoralizing freeze-out in Monaco – he simply put his head down and in the end, was able to pull himself out of one of the lowest points of his short career. Clearly patience is a virtue he possesses. Roma has been patient, too, with certain players who have seen dips in form. Yet, the same patience has not been given to the young lad from Savona.

Stephan deserves an opportunity. He deserves a chance to shoulder some responsibility. He is a charismatic, Italian, good looking stud who proved last season he still has the goods. He’s also marketable and he can sell jerseys, which doesn’t hurt either. You can build around a kid like this, and he is still fairly young. I’m not saying he should start over this player or that player, only that he could surely be integrated better. For whatever reason, it appears that SES has not been granted faith by Spalletti.

Don’t get it twisted, a player like Stephan will not happily accept a diminished role forever. Given his history, there will likely be opportunities elsewhere. This club would almost certainly regret letting him go without first giving him a proper chance. Unless you are one the large clubs with billions in the coffers, you cannot have your torta and eat it too.

Why do I think SES should remain in Rome for as long as possible? Well, besides the obvious, Roma and Stephan are a perfect match. Roma has a history of gambling on players who carry baggage with them, be it emotional or physical. Heck, Garcia made a transfer strategy out of it. Why? Because Roma herself carries an awful lot of emotional baggage. Stephan could be a fit here because he’s a worker. A grinder. Let’s be honest, Roma is a blue-collar club, and despite his silver platter upbringing at Milan, he is still willing to get his fingernails dirty. We need an Italian to carry this club forward. Could it be SES?

Together, there could be beautiful music to be made...or not.

What do you think? Is he just another hired gun, an expendable, with Rome being simply another stop on the revolving door his career will turn out to be, or match made in heaven? Underutilized or overrated? One thing is certain. He will seek consistent playing time no doubt.